Friday, August 26, 2005

Bloglines gave me my life back. ASL threatens to take it away.

Many thanks to Yehuda, who suggested I try Bloglines last week. What a great service. Thanks to others who made suggestions, too. Bloglines was the first recommendation, hence it was the first I tried. I was pleased enough that I didn't explore any of the other suggestions.

Back when I was only monitoring a dozen blogs it was easy to just click through them two or three times each week. But that was a while ago. I plugged 55 blogs into Bloglines the other day. Iain Cheyne just sent me a list of even more RSS feeds, including a few websites I had assumed had no feeds. Bloglines notifies me when any of them have new content. I now have time for another part-time job, or for two additional games of Puerto Rico each week. Why, oh why, didn't I look into RSS feeds months ago?

The first week this blog was up I saw numerous references to RSS feeds, and I was intrigued. A fellow BGGer, Scott Nicholson, requested that I link to the Live Journal feed he created, which is right here, btw http://www.livejournal.com/users/gonegaming/ as well as the feed for my blog, which is right here http://www.livejournal.com/users/andgames/ Thanks, Scott.

I had heard of RSS feeds, but when I did my research I only found pay services. I wasn't enthused enough with the idea to pay for it. After I got Scott's message I looked at Live Journal and found they had a free service. Unfortunately, I got no where with their free service, but I did more research and found other sites that provided a free service. That is what prompted my inquiry last week. I'm glad I asked.

Bloglines = Good Stuff.

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My last few game sessions have been Advanced Squad Leader sessions. There is a local tournament scheduled for mid-September and my friends want to brush up on the rules. What a game. What a surprise. I kinda like it. Don't expect me to read the rules, though. My friend has two 5-pound rule books and dozens of cheat sheets lying around. Fortunately, each scenario only requires 2-3 pounds of rules, one does not need to know all 10 pounds of rules for each game.

Note: For those of you unfamiliar with ASL, I am not joking about two 5 lb. rule books. He has two 3" binders stuffed full of hundreds of pages of rules. In addition to the basic rules, which are massive, each scenario (and there are dozens, possibly hundreds of scenarios) has numerous rule modifications to keep the scenario historically accurate.

ASL is a wargame of squad-level combat. Players control individual squads, leaders, individual vehicles, machine guns, and other individual pieces of equipment. Detail is voluminous. The height of the bamboo in Pacific-theater scenarios varies from hex to hex. Men cower, break and rally if conditions are appropriate, and rules are modified to reflect a squad's actual morale at the time the scenario takes place in order to keep things historically accurate. Equipment can break. Snipers take pot shots independent of your command. Turning the turret on a tank takes precious movement points, and every vehicle was laboriously studied to insure its stats reflected real life capabilities. Squads armed with certain weapons are more likely to suffer equipment malfunction. Certain weapons are heavier to carry, so squads armed with those weapons move slightly slower each round. You don't just move squads around either, you have to state how they are moving; assault move, dash, CX, and low crawl are some of the more common types of movement. Even smoke from damaged vehicles is figured into the game.

The detail is insane.

I actually had a half-track blow up because my crew didn't use precious movement points to check the oil level before going into battle. I lost another squad because they were listening to BBC-1 instead of BBC-2 when the firing started. Every good ASL player knows that BBC-1 is 17% more likely to put soldiers to sleep than BBC-2. Or... were those post-ASL-game nightmares? It is so hard to separate the two.

I believe most ASL material was published in the 80s and 90s under the original Avalon Hill name. When AH went broke, new ASL material vanished. Die-hard fans kept the game alive, E-bay prices for old modules are confiscatory. The game has been resurrected and is now being published by MultiMan Publishing, including a beginner's module.

ASL is not a party game. It is not a game to be played casually then discarded. It is not even a heavy game. It is a lifestyle. It's not my lifestyle, but I could vacation there for a week or two each year if I was with a friend who spoke the language and he sprang for all the expenses.

Watch for a guest blog next Friday.

Good gaming,
CF

8 comments:

fubar awol said...

Funny article... especially to a former ASL-as-a-Lifestyle person like me.

It sounds like The Game has a hold on you boy... enjoy the ride!

Iain said...

Bloglines is excellent and I use it a lot, but if you only use one computer then RSSOwl is definitely worth a look.

http://www.rssowl.org/

Chris Farrell said...


On ASL

fubar awol said...

Read Chris' article... it's friggin hilarious! - and true, every word ; )

Especially if you’ve known “the life”.

Chris Farrell said...

... and by the way, turning your tank's turret usually doesn't cost an MP :)

Lest you be too deterred, some of the plausible-sounding rules Coldfoot mentions don't exist ... bamboo is in fact of consistant height, and morale rules don't vary from scenario to scenario. ASL's saving grace is, in general, consistancy, and the whole upgrade from Squad Leader to Advanced Squad Leader involved taking a patchwork of rules from Squad Leader and its expansions and making them a consistant, far less-fiddly (if not less voluminous) whole.

My favorite (and by favorite, I mean least favorite) rules are the ones for firing off-board artillery and for when tanks overrun infantry. These are in fact so convoluted that the 2nd edition ASL rulebook includes large flowcharts. The scary thing: the current rules for off-board artillery are the substantially cleaned-up and streamlined versions! To see if someone is a true ASL grognard, ask him (or her, I suppose) when you would use a red vs. a blue spotting round, and see if they start twitching. I played for years under the old rules and found that the world was a happier place if I simply ignored the existance of the blue spotting round rules, and most of the people I played with were cool with that because they couldn't figure them out either. Fortunately, they are now a thing of the past.

Coldfoot said...

Chris-

Morale (I might not be using the right word from the rules) varies for the same units from scenario to scenario. I was playing a scenario that took place in the waning days of WWII. German morale was much easier to break than in other WWII scenarios. I believe that German SS units in the scenario broke on a dice roll similar to regular troops.

As for the height of the bamboo, I overheard a discussion between two other players about how the differing height of bamboo on two areas of the same board affected movement and combat factors.

Turrets on various vehicles are designated either fast or slow (possibly normal or slow, I forget exactly) and can only turn a certain number of hexes in a given phase of a turn. It might not be movement allowance that is used to turn them, but there are limitations on how fast turrets can turn.

BBC and checking the oil were not rules that I have so far encountered, but I would not be surprised if they did pop up.

DWTripp said...

Well done Coldie. After reading this article I am so thankful Squad Leader and ASL never appealed to me.

Of course I do have about 30,000 miniatures and a giant plastic storage case with perhaps 45 sets of table-top rules in it. But even that seems less overwhelming than Squad Leader.

Yehuda said...

Re: bloglines. Thank Mikko Saari, since he told me about it.